DETROIT — Lotus Cars is stockpiling parts in case the United Kingdom leaves the European Union in a chaotic way that blocks supply chains, said CEO Phil Popham. But despite the steady drumbeat of concern over the risk of hard Brexit, he said it won't throw off the storied sports car brand's aggressive five-year plan.
"We're going to get our heads down and deliver it," Popham said during a visit to Automotive News here last week. "In talking with our owners, in talking with our board, [Brexit] doesn't change the long term. We all think a deal will get done at some point, whatever that is, and it may be a different world, but there'll be some normality that comes back again."
That plan starts with a new sports car and extends to include a new platform, possibly new body types and probably a second factory.
If such aggressive growth sounds familiar, it might be because of similarities to Volvo Cars' path as part of Li Shufu's Zhejiang Geely Holding Group. Geely's rapid global expansion enveloped Lotus in 2017.
Popham, a former Jaguar Land Rover executive who was most recently CEO at Sunseeker International, a yacht company, joined Lotus in October.
With global sales of 1,630 cars in 2018, Lotus is not a volume manufacturer, nor does it aspire to become one, even with its expected growth, Popham said. Lower volume protects Lotus from the potential disruption Brexit could bring to larger automakers, he said.
"The worst we're going to get is to leave under [World Trade Organization] arrangements, which means duty for parts that are coming in and duty paid for imports elsewhere," he said. "The U.K. is in the top 20 trading countries in the world, so you've got to assume that in the course of time, those trading arrangements and agreements are going to be made."
Volvo can be looked at as a model for the brand's future.
"I would suggest they're more Swedish now than they were eight or nine years ago," when Geely bought Volvo from Ford, Popham said. "The DNA of the brand, the personality of the brand hasn't changed. What has changed is the infrastructure in China and in Europe and the investment they've made in fantastic product, good-quality product. They're expanding their range. They've more than doubled their sales in that time. That's a success story for me. We're different — our brand is different — but that sort of model is what we should see with Lotus."